How I Learned to Embrace my Whole Story

Sheila Wise Rowe

by Sheila Wise Rowe

Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space.



There was a time when my story was less about Jesus. If you asked me how I was doing, I would categorize things as all good or all bad, which undermined the fullness of my story. And even when I was in a crisis, I was reluctant to see a therapist. After all, I was a therapist myself, and some might say I should have been spiritually and emotionally healthy.

Telling the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth

One day, while in prayer, I heard, ‘Your calling is to invite folks to heal, live authentically, and grow spiritually. So, you must do the same.’ This would involve learning to embrace my whole story, no matter the cost. I would have to confront and tell the truth about myself, my family, and to be truthful in the stories I write.

Like the lives of every biblical character, the details of our stories are complex, messy, and true. Warren Wiersbe writes, “Truth without love is brutality and love without truth is hypocrisy.” Ephesians 4 tells us that to overcome a wavering faith, we should, “speak the truth in love,” and so “grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”

Sometimes, we speak the truth in love to others. But we may also need to tell the truth to and about ourselves. Writing and speaking have offered ways for me to do this. Both are radical and prophetic acts that address residual shame and involve the risk of being misunderstood. My story has many highs and lows. I wasn’t sure how to embrace all of it with love, compassion, and without judgment.

Owning the Good and the Hard Truth

Growing up, I experienced moments of joy and pain with my parents. There was laughter and playing double Dutch and tag with my eight siblings and a slew of neighborhood friends. Every summer, my family spent weeks at my grandparent’s farm in Virginia. The farm offered me a greater sense of belonging. I had time and space that grounded me in my identity and worth as a black girl. I was part of an ever-expanding family, and there, I learned I was a beloved child of God.

But the experience of being bused to an all-white school in Boston overshadowed all the good that had come before. I could no longer fully hold the blessings of my story. I lost any sense of how bright and beautiful I was. I forgot how the melanin of my skin and the coils of my hair were delightful. I was fearfully and wonderfully made by God, the creator of melanin, yet I came to believe that my life and my story did not matter.

I lived in two distinct realities. In one, I knew I belonged, and in the other, it was clear that I didn’t. I somehow survived in this closed, truncated space. Reflecting on my life, I was on a perpetual quest to belong to somebody or some place.

In college, I tried to ease the pain of isolation by acting out. Soon, Jesus became both abstract and familiar, like the lyrics of a song I mindlessly sang. I thought I was a good Christian but I lost my grip on the whole reason why Jesus came and with it, lost my sense of who I was and what I believed. When I finally entered therapy, my counselor offered a safe enough space for me to get real with God and myself about the extent of my inner turmoil. During each session God was at work gently softening and healing my heart.

Entrusting it all to the Author of my Faith

Embracing my whole story involved understanding that even during seasons of pain, loss, and loneliness, the Lord is present and—while often unseen—still forming new life in me. Embracing my whole story was not a once-off event, either. As 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 suggests, I consistently “take every thought captive” including every part of my ongoing story and “make it subject to Christ.” I pray for clarity, and the Lord lovingly reveals any past or present illusions or any concerns that need attention. He reminds me of the truth: The belonging, justice or needs I seek to meet are entirely found in and through God’s unconditional love.

As we embrace our whole story, it may feel like coming home to ourselves and all God has poured into and through us. Embracing and sharing our stories is not only for or about us. It’s also for those who need to hear it and recognize or receive validation about aspects of their own story. And, there’s more at work in these sacred moments beyond our shared stories. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, we read how we’ve been comforted by God, “so we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

Many folks are hurt, searching for comfort and a sense of belonging. Jesus invites us to extend his love that welcomes and encourages us all to embrace and share our whole story with one another.



Sheila Wise Rowe is a sought-after speaker, Spiritual Director, and an InterVarsity Press author of the award-winning book, Healing Racial Trauma. Her newest book is Young,Gifted, and Black and a forthcoming book, Your Heart Matters. Connect with her at or on social media at @sheilawiserowe